Lawmakers Seek National Park in Honor of Stonewall

Sep 21, 2015
In The News

SEPT. 20, 2015

 

Senator Kirsten E. Gillibrand of New York and Representative Jerrold Nadler of Manhattan unveiled a campaign on Sunday to create a national park honoring the Stonewall uprising, vowing that they would mount a petition drive urging President Obama to grant protected status to the site of a pivotal early clash in the movement for gay equality.

Standing in front of Christopher Park, the narrow green wedge opposite the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, and flanked by nearly a dozen government officials and activists, the two lawmakers said they would introduce legislation for a national park there.

But both Ms. Gillibrand and Mr. Nadler, both Democrats, said success was far more likely to come through presidential fiat than by an act of the Republican-controlled Congress.

“We must have federal recognition of the L.G.B.T. movement’s history and origins and ensure that this piece of L.G.B.T. history is preserved for future generations,” Mr. Nadler said.

Without presidential action, he said, the park proposal would face “a long and uncertain road, as so many things are in Congress today.”

The Stonewall Inn, where bar patrons resisted a 1969 police raid and helped touch off a more aggressive phase of the fight for gay rights, has already been designated as a landmark by New York City.

But Ms. Gillibrand said a federal park at the site would help give proper recognition to the gay rights movement. She compared the proposed monument to the Women’s Rights national historical park in Seneca Falls, N.Y., which honors the movement for women’s equality, and the Selma-to-Montgomery national historic trail, which commemorates the 1965 march for black civil rights.

A host of senior New York Democrats have endorsed the campaign for a national park at Stonewall, including Mayor Bill de Blasio and Senator Chuck Schumer.

The White House has not yet indicated its view of the Stonewall park proposal and did not do so over the weekend. Organizers acknowledged that there were thorny questions that must still be worked out even before Mr. Obama could take action.

Neither the Stonewall Inn nor Christopher Park is currently owned by the federal government. That would have to change in order for any portion of the area to become a national park.

The National Parks Conservation Association, the leading group backing the push for a Stonewall Park, indicated in a news release that Christopher Park and the facade of the Stonewall Inn — rather than the rest of its structure — would be the most important components of any protected site.

Mr. Nadler said the National Park Service was actively considering options for the site and had been “very receptive” to overtures so far. The congressman said he was hopeful for federal action before Mr. Obama leaves office, though he noted that Democratic presidential candidates, including Hillary Rodham Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, would likely be supportive.

“I am sure that Hillary or Bernie or any of those people would be eager to support it,” Mr. Nadler said. “But hopefully it’ll be done when President Obama’s still in office. Hopefully, he’ll be here to inaugurate it.”

The Stonewall Inn has taken on fresh symbolism in recent months after the Supreme Court’s June decision in Obergefell v. Hodges recognized aconstitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Thousands of New Yorkers flocked to the bar and its environs to celebrate the decision. Two days after the court’s ruling — hours before the city’s gay pride parade would pass in front of the Stonewall Inn — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo officiated at the wedding of two men outside the bar.

Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a Manhattan Democrat, cited the June celebrations in her remarks endorsing a national park there on Sunday. “When that decision came down, all of us instinctively ran to Stonewall,” she said, adding: “I would say it is already a historic landmark. We just need government to catch up with the people.”

Councilman Corey Johnson, who represents the neighborhood around the Stonewall Inn, voiced a similar sense of inevitability.

“For us to be here today to work towards achieving monument status for this special place, I think, shows how far we’ve come,” Mr. Johnson said. “But also, I’m frankly shocked that it hasn’t happened already.”

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